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Features |  29 Mar 2018 17:12 |  By Tanmaya Vyas

Rarely played Indian instruments

MUMBAI: Indian music is known for its legendary stories and quirky trivia. Indian music is as diverse as the culture, and so are the instruments. Many of these instruments have been modified and further adapted to relevant types. Though there is a museum of rare instruments seldom played in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, for those who can’t visit that right now, let’s have a look at ten such unique rarely played and therefore rarely heard instruments.

Kinnari: An ancient stringed musical instrument of India, finds mention in ancient Sanskrit literature, paintings and sculptures. The etymology of the name derives from a musician in Hindu mythology, Kinnara. The neck of the instrument is shaped like a kite and has three gourds, which act as the resonator. The main body has a wooden bar, which serves as a fingerboard. 


Dilruba: Dilruba is a cross between two other stringed instruments, Sitar and Sarangi. 300 years ago this instrument was created and developed by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Guru Ji modified Taus, an instrument played much before Dilruba. Taus was much heavier than its successor and was created by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind ji. Dilruba was created, so it was easier for the Khalsa, the Sikh army to carry on the horseback, so they don’t miss out o music, while they travelled extensively by 1980s, this instrument almost faded into time, however with resurgence of Gurmat Sangeet in Punjab, one can hear it again at holy shrines.

Esraj: Esraj is the modern variant of Dilruba. The interesting part is, despite the instrument having found its traces in Northen India, specifically Punjab, today it is played, however rarely, in the east for Rabindra Sangeet. However, research says, that this instrument has variants across the North, Centre and East. This instrument though played at some level, has minimal recognition among the commoners. Both Dilruba and Esraj are played by keeping the instrument between the knees and with a help of a Gaz (Bow).

Ravanahatha: A bowstring instrument finds its origin during the rule of Ravana and was played by the Hela community. The legend goes; that Hanuman brought this to North India after Ravan was defeated in Lanka. Made of coconut shell and covered with goat skin, this instrument is played with a Dandi or a bow. Not a part of mainstream anymore, this instrument is restricted to folk music played in Rajasthan.

SurSringar: Similar to European instrument Lute, Sur Sringar literally means “Decoration of the notes”. Now often played Sarod has some similarities to SurSringar too, however the latter generates a more deep sound and resonation than Sarod. It could be made of wood or leather.

Vichitra Veena: It is the modern variant of the erstwhile Ektari Veena. The instrument has no frets unlike Sitar and is played with a slide. Initially, it was played with Dhrupad style of singing, giving it a marginal scope to have its own identity. It was brought forefront by Lalmani Mishra and his son Gopal Mishra. However, there are very few players, who have mastered this instrument.

Yazh: Another instrument, that has a rich history, is not known to the current generation. The instrument is said to be scripted in the head of Yali, leogrphy, commonly found in South Indian Temples. It can also be referred as parent of modern-day Veena. The structure and make of it varies.

Gubguba: Gubguba is a rare percussion string instrument. The instrument gives you an impression of Tabla, but a closer look makes you realize it is not. The instrument has a gut string too. The instruments have different names and variants across the country.

Pepa: A wind instrument, similar to Flute, Pepa was a household item once in the North Eastern state, Assam. However, due to decline in buffaloes in the state, the instrument is rarely made these days, as buffalo horn is an integral part of making this instrument.

Sambal: The percussion instrument, has two drum sets like table, but has a very loud and aggressive sound. Mostly played in the western belt of India, this instrument was mainly used for the folk music. However, even in that, the rate of its usage has declined.